Streets for People / Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West

If there’s one thing people on the island of Key West love to complain about more than bicycles – “They never use stop signs!” “They go the wrong way on one-way streets!” “They don’t follow the traffic laws!” “They don’t have lights!” – it’s e-bikes and e-scooters (the stand-up kind). There’s a great gnashing of teeth as people proclaim, “They were going so fast they almost knocked me down!” “They shouldn’t be allowed on the sidewalk!” “They shouldn’t be allowed on the promenade because they go too fast and are going to kill somebody!” “Ban them!” “Don’t allow tourists to rent them!” And on and on. 

Here’s the thing. E-bikes and e-scooters are here to stay. Recent technology advances make these easier than ever to produce and prices are coming down, making them a real option for everyone. But we admit that these faster moving e-vehicles pose more dangers than the typical conch cruiser bicycle going 9 miles per hour. So, to help everyone out we’ve done a little research and talked to everyone’s favorite “Bike Guy” or City Transportation Coordinator, Ryan Stachurski, to bring you the actual do’s and don’ts of everything to do with e-bikes and e-scooters. Let’s dig in!

A Quick, Efficient, Non-Sweaty Alternative to Driving Is Good for Our Island

First things first. E-bikes and e-scooters are a quick, efficient, less costly, and non-sweaty alternative to driving. One of the many butwhataboutisms we hear from folks when we promote better bicycling is “Well not everyone can ride bikes – it’s too much effort!” “I have to work and can’t arrive sweaty!” “Bikes are too slow!” Well, e-bikes and e-scooters solve those problems. E-vehicles are especially cost-saving for our working class who can barely afford rent, let alone the additional expense of a car. And we all know one of the top complaints on the island is traffic and parking congestion, so people using these e-vehicles means less competition for those who drive. In the end e-things are good for our little island because it means people are using a road efficient, non-polluting mode of transportation who otherwise might be driving a car. Here’s what the City’s Transportation Coordinator says:

“Lawfully commuting by e-bike or motorized scooter is great for our community in terms of reduced traffic congestion, pollution, and noise. They’re more affordable than cars and easier to park, and that’s certainly part of the reason we’re seeing more and more of them around town.” 

Our local WeCycle bike shop on Stock Island has been selling and servicing e-bikes for years. I stopped in and talked to Manager Jesus Avril, and he told me they sell a lot of e-bikes to locals. They usually only have a few on the floor because they sell so fast. Jesus tells me locals buy them for a quick form of transportation as an alternative to more expensive cars. On their floor they had a $1,400 and $1,600 model pictured here. Island Bicycles on Truman also now sells e-bikes. 

Summary: 6 Do’s and Don’ts for E-Vehicles in Key West

Based on the new rules put into the Key West Code last summer here are six quick do’s and don’ts:

  1. Bicycles MAY ride on sidewalks but must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.
  2. E-vehicles may NOT ride on sidewalks.
  3. E-powered ADA mobility devices MAY ride on sidewalks.
  4. E-vehicles MAY ride on multi-use paths, that include the promenades.
  5. E-vehicles may NOT go faster than 15 mph on multi-use paths.
  6. E-vehicles/ADA mobility devices must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.

So, let’s see how we got these new rules and then get to the specific language of the law. If you want to get straight to the specifics of the rules, skip the next section.

Background On How We Got These New Regulations – Mayor Johnston and Commissioner Kaufman Take the Lead

Fearing a deluge of stand-up e-scooters like other cities were experiencing, in February 2020 the City Commission put a 180-day moratorium on new companies coming in and renting motorized or non-motorized vehicles. They were specifically worried about these vehicles on our sidewalks. The moratorium was said to be needed to review data on traffic safety and capacity as they figured out what to do. 

A new Florida Law effective July 1, 2020, provided for three classifications of e-bikes or pedal assist and throttle bikes and gave them all the rights, privileges and duties of human powered bikes, meaning they could operate anywhere a regular bike could, including sidewalks. Remember this for later. But the new law also gave counties and municipalities the ability to regulate their use on sidewalks. This prompted Commissioner Sam Kaufman and Mayor Johnston to pursue an effort to update the City’s own ordinance to comply with the new State rules and make our sidewalks safer. At their October 2020 meeting they extended the moratorium by another 180 days or longer to provide time for a new ordinance to take effect. 

At the City Commission’s final meeting of the year on December 2, 2020, City Attorney Shawn Smith let everyone know that since the draft ordinance was put on his plate as part of his annual goals for the year, he was presenting them a draft, codifying the new State rules in the City ordinance, thereby meeting his goal. However, his draft did nothing to address safety on the sidewalks or streets. It simply permitted e-bikes and e-scooters on sidewalks, like bicycles. FAIL. This was the Mayor’s response at the meeting:

“The ordinance essentially says open the city’s streets and sidewalks to e-vehicles and let them come in. I had great concern about that because we have no data on sidewalk safety, on where these vehicles go, how we control them, how we monitor them. Because of our lack of bicycles lanes, we have shoved everything onto our sidewalks which, I think we can all agree that they’ve become very dangerous…. We’ve got small sidewalks. We’ve got busy sidewalks. And we’re trying to put one more form of transportation on them. We need to know how to do that safely.”

Mayor Johnston was rightfully unsatisfied. She asked for some data on potential conflicts between e-vehicles and pedestrians and wanted safety recommendations, including how to ban these vehicles from sidewalks, as part of the package. Commissioner Sam Kaufman suggested the City’s then Transportation Coordinator Tim Staub be given more sway in the final recommendations. 

Mr. Staub got some quick pedestrian and bicycle counts on local paths and researched options for regulating different classes of vehicles on the sidewalks. It was easy enough to use the new State law and simply insert language in the City ordinance banning e-bikes and e-scooters from sidewalks that aren’t part of a multi-use path. Multi-use paths include the Promenades on North and South Roosevelt, and the designated paths on Bertha Street, Atlantic Boulevard and Palm Avenue. The e-vehicles, by State statute, can’t be banned from the multi-use paths. However, e-vehicles can be limited to a certain speed, and that’s exactly what the new ordinance does, setting the speed limit at 15 mph, when these vehicles typically travel at 20 mph and above.

The City Attorney’s Office worked with Mr. Staub to address the Mayor’s and Commissioner Kaufman’s ideas and concerns and got something positive done. At Mr. Kaufman’s urging the new ordinance provides exceptions to e-vehicles on sidewalks for children and persons with disabilities. Said Commissioner Kaufman:

“We all want our sidewalks to remain safe for our residents and visitors alike. The increased use of electric bicycles and other electric motorized devices on sidewalks has created increased safety concerns. We also want to promote the safe operation with alternative means of transportation to reduce automobile traffic and parking congestion. We need policies that achieve a balanced approach on our island especially for areas with more narrow streets and sidewalks. These amendments promote the public’s health, safety, and welfare by conforming commercial rental vehicle regulations with Florida Statutes and providing additional safety precautions with the use and rental of electric bicycles and electric motorized devices.”

The new ordinance had its first reading on February 5, 2021 and it wasn’t until July 20, 2021 that final action was taken and it became the “Electric Bicycle, Motorized Scooters and Micromobility Devices law

Oh, that moratorium on companies renting out new e-vehicles or gas-powered vehicles for that matter, is still in effect awaiting a “mobility study.” Frankly, we think the City should just let new companies rent e-vehicles. For example, the Lama e-scooters we covered in this story: We Need to Encourage Efforts Like the Proposed Lama Electric Scooter, August 6, 2021.

The New Rules as of July 1, 2021

What’s a Recreational Device as Defined in the Code?

We’ve been referring to these as e-bikes, e-scooters, and e-vehicles throughout our story. In the Key West Code these are also defined as “recreational vehicles.”

Sec. 70-901. – Definitions.

Recreational devices shall mean electric bicycle, motorized scooter or other micromobility devices. This term shall not mean bicycles, mopeds or any self-propelled or motorized vehicles capable of exceeding 28 mph.”

So, while a “recreational device” DOES mean an e-bike or e-scooter it DOES NOT mean a regular non-motorized bike. Nor does it include the electric and gas-powered mopeds and vehicles capable of going 28 or more miles per hour. We’ve been referring to these as e-vehicles throughout our story.

Can E-Bikes and E-Scooters Ride on the Sidewalk?

No. E-bikes and e-scooters cannot ride on our sidewalks. Says Mr. Stachurski:

“For everyone generally, it required that we park our edevice in a proper location (never against a tree), never ride them on a sidewalk (unless designated as such or pursuant to ADA), and always yield to and alert passing of pedestrians.”

Says the City of Key West Municipal Code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device Use.

“(a) All public sidewalks and/or pedestrian pathways, shall be only available for use by pedestrians or non-motorized or non-electric bicycles unless said public sidewalk or pathway has been designated for multi-use and/or shared use as defined in Code of Ordinances 70-1.”

Can I Ride My Electric Mobility Device on the Sidewalk If It is for ADA Purposes?

Yes. Yes, you can. As Ryan said above, “unless designated as such or pursuant to ADA.” Says the code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device use.

“(a) (1) Notwithstanding the above provision, an individual utilizing a Recreational Device pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may operate those devices on any city street, multi-use/shared-use path or sidewalk, regardless of designation.”

Can Regular Bicycles Ride on the Sidewalks? How About on Duval Street?

Says our Transportation Coordinator:

Non-motorized bicycles are allowed on sidewalks unless otherwise posted, and must yield to pedestrians. Most of the time, and for most riders, it’s best to stay in the street. Although it’s not wise to ride a bike on the sidewalk along Duval (with doors swinging open and people trying to walk), I am not aware of a prohibition. I’ve heard that there’s a law, but I’ve never found it. Hopefully, someone can correct me!”

I’ll admit I use a small portion of the sidewalk to cut to the corner before getting on to the street because our street is one-way. But I only do it for a quarter of a block and only if I don’t see any pedestrians. If people are really riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, it is likely because they are afraid to be in the road. Like on Truman or Eaton or especially on North Roosevelt. In these situations, it is on the City to design streets where people feel safe enough to bike. Until then though, it is incumbent upon the person on a bike to go slow and always yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.

Can E-Vehicles Ride on the Multi-Use Paths and Promenades that Look Like Sidewalks?

Yes. While e-vehicles cannot ride on our sidewalks, they can use all bike lanes and the multi-use paths that include the promenades on the island. Yes, it is confusing because the promenades of North and South Roosevelt Boulevards are cement and look like sidewalks, but they are designated by the State as Multi-Use Paths. Says the code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device Use

“(b) The riding and operating of recreational devices is permissible upon all multi-use and/or shared use paths a bicycle may legally travel, located on or within City of Key West limits,”

The multi-use or shared paths include the Promenade all the way around South Roosevelt Boulevard along Cow Key Channel and past the airport and Smathers Beach to Bertha Street. It also includes the newly paved path on Bertha Street to Atlantic Avenue and the recently paved and buffered path along Atlantic Avenue between Bertha Street and White Street. On the other side of the island, it includes the promenade adjacent to the water from the Triangle along North Roosevelt to Eisenhower Avenue where it becomes Truman Avenue. And it also includes Palm Avenue from North Roosevelt Boulevard to Eaton Street. Here’s a map:

How Fast Can E-Vehicles Travel on the Promenades and Multi-Use Paths?

The speed limit on the multi-use paths, that include the promenades, is 15 mph. Says the code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device use.

“(b) (1) Recreational devices shall be restricted to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour when operating on a public multi-use and/or shared path” 

What Are the Responsibilities of E-Vehicles on Multi-Use Paths?

We’ll go straight to the code for this one:

Sec.70-902. – Device use.

“(b) (2) A person operating a Recreational Device upon and along a sidewalk, sidewalk area, or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, has all the rights and duties applicable to a bicyclist under the same circumstances, and shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.”

In other words, not only are e-bikes and e-scooters limited to 15 m.p.h., but they must yield to slower moving pedestrians and bicycles and give them an audible warning, such as “On your left” or even “beep beep” when passing.

Are There Any Rules About E-Vehicles in the Bike Lanes?

Here we are talking about the painted bike lanes you see on Southard, Fleming, White, Reynolds and other places around town. Not, the multi-use paths. When we asked Ryan if the bike lanes were considered part of the street – and thus not limited to the 15 mph on multi-use paths he answered:

“Correct, painted bike lanes are considered part of the street. Florida Statute provides:

316.20655(7) An operator may ride an electric bicycle where bicycles are allowed, including, but not limited to, streets, highways, roadways, shoulders, bicycle lanes, and bicycle or multiuse paths.

To my knowledge, there aren’t any City Ordinances that would limit bike lane riding by e-vehicles, only sidewalk riding. They are, of course, regulated by the regular speed limit.”

What Are the Responsibilities of Rental Companies to Educate E-Riders?

Glad you asked. The City’s Transportation Coordinator answers:

“There are only a handful of e-bikes currently licensed in the city as recreational rental vehicles. Businesses that rent these vehicles must post a sign warning of dangeroffer a helmet, and teach the user that they’re not allowed on sidewalks. Each vehicle needs to display a license which is verified by code compliance staff. Chances are that if you see someone on an e-bike, it’s not a rental, it’s your neighbor out on a ride or heading to work. 

Summary: 6 Do’s and Don’ts for E-Vehicles in Key West

  1. Bicycles MAY ride on sidewalks but must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.
  2. E-vehicles may NOT ride on sidewalks.
  3. E-powered ADA mobility devices MAY ride on sidewalks.
  4. E-vehicles MAY ride on multi-use paths, that include the promenades.
  5. E-vehicles may NOT go faster than 15 mph on multi-use paths.
  6. E-vehicles/ADA mobility devices must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.

While Our Sidewalks and Paths Are Safer, Our Streets Could Use More Work

Good on the City of Key West for writing new legislation that make things safer by keeping e-vehicles off our sidewalks and regulating their speed on multi-use paths to no more than 15 miles per hour. And for making sure that companies renting to visitors educate these new riders to our island of the rules. In one of our most popular stories last year, PeopleforBikes Ranks Key West 39th Best City for Bicycles, June 11, 2021 we learned from local leaders and the data that Key West’s high rank was because we were warm, flat and compact – so lots of people, including visitors, ride bikes. Not because of any great bicycle infrastructure we have. 

If people feel compelled to use bikes, e-bikes, or e-scooters on our already crowded sidewalks, it is because they don’t feel safe in the street. If people don’t use these devices at all, it is also often because they don’t feel safe doing so. The lesson here is that rules, even if backed up with adequate enforcement, are NOT enough. Safety is more about street design than any other single thing. Our streets are mostly designed to mainland Florida standards that accommodate car convenience and parking over bicycling and pedestrians. We need more and better bike lanes, protected bike lanes, bike boxes, paths, trails, signage, bike parking and more. Much of this is in our Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. We just need to follow it more quickly and earnestly. It will help make our little island paradise more green, healthy, and prosperous.

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You can find the 50 KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and here and the 13 most recent stories below:

Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. He’s a native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth for Arlington County, VA’s DOT. Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here and his blog here.

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